Friday, September 26, 2008

Unmanned Aircraft Coming to a Farm Near You.....Soon!

In an ultra-modern take on a St Bernard bringing brandy to stranded skiers, pilotless aircraft have this week been dropping water to someone ‘lost’ in the outback. The outback is near Kingaroy airport in Queensland, and the person is a mannequin, but the unmanned airborne vehicles (UAV) are real.

It's all part of this week's 2008 UAV Challenge – Outback Rescue, which CSIRO's experts in autonomous robots are helping judge.

Going beyond remote control, UAV’s rely on computers, sensors and the global positioning system (GPS) to figure out how to perform tasks given to them by a human operator.

One of the richest UAV competitions in the world, the UAV Challenge is an initiative of the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA, a partnership between CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology), the Queensland Government and Boeing Australia Limited.

Participants in the open competition have an hour to fly up to five nautical miles (approximately nine kilometres), search four square nautical miles (over ten square kilometres) for ‘Outback Joe’, drop a 500 millilitre bottle of 'life saving' water close by him then return to the airport.

"The UAV Challenge helps promote the significance of UAV’s to Australia," said CSIRO's Dr Michael Bruenig, Deputy CEO of ARCAA. "Here we're showing how UAVs could save lives by quickly and cost effectively delivering medical supplies to critically ill patients in remote areas, but UAV's could also inspect powerlines and other infrastructure, monitor stock, keep an eye on water use or traffic flow and then there are defence applications in border security and surveillance."

CSIRO's research focuses on the civilian applications for autonomous vehicles such as our submarine, helicopter, ground vehicles and robots for mining. "Since last year's competition, we’ve already seen increased participation of regional Australia in high-tech industry," Dr Bruenig said. "We particularly value having a category for high school students because it exposes them to potential career opportunities in this area in Australia."

Real opportunities are already being considered in the large scale pastoral industry in northern Australia, including monitoring of bores, erosion, pastures, cattle herds, fences and gates. Opportunities also exist for road and pastoral condition monitoring. Some of these last areas are already satellite checked, but using unmanned aircraft provides real time opportunities to check, rather than the delayed evidence available from satellites. With light aricraft and even ultralights used already, this is a modest step forward, but with very real benefits. Biosecurity border survelliance already has moved to investigate use of these aircraft across northern Australia.

Yes.....there are opportunities for news making with saving lost people, but the real ongoing benefits will be to industry.

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